AfricArena, a first-of-its-kind annual 2-day investment conference, brought top African startup talent, foreign investors and influential ecosystem leaders to Cape Town.
AfricArena, spearheaded by Silicon Cape and La French Tech, partnered with heavyweight corporates AirFrance, RCS, BPI France, SAVCA, AVCA, Schneider Electric, City of Cape Town, Wesgro and Leroy Merlin to create a first-ever live battle arena for startups from across Africa to pitch their winning solutions to 10 open innovation challenges. This provided startups with high-exposure opportunities to showcase their businesses to investors, forge long-term relationships, and win coveted partnerships.
The series of open innovation challenges were established as an opportunity for companies to sponsor a conference beyond a simple financial investment while simultaneously benefiting from the expertise of startups to solve a problem identified by the company. Funding raised for AfricArena was used to cover the cost for the selected startups, removing typical emerging market barriers that typically prevent access, and thereby ensuring a concentrated pool of talent and investors.
“For the VC4A community it was great to take part in the inaugural AfricArena conference 2017! We showcased 20 digital XL Africa scale-ups from across the African continent, and as they push to find partners and investors to back their international expansion, we expect many new success stories on the way as a result of collaborating with our partners AfricArena,” shared Ben White, founder of VC4A.
French Ambassador Christophe Farnaud said the French government through La French Tech had contributed 25% of the funding for the conference as it considered it important to facilitate investment into startups by big corporates.
“The basis is not only to give support, it’s to create a supportive environment that allows for the development of the startups,” he said. He added that the French government carried out similar initiatives in France itself as well as internationally in French tech hubs around the world.
Farnaud said the French tech hub framework — through which local startup ecosystems partner with the French tech ecosystem — was allowing the French government to work with African startups.
“The aim of AfricArena is to bring investment to Africa,” added Ellen Fischat, MD of Silicon Cape, “We need to attract more international investment – this is our biggest challenge. Africa will be the next biggest tech startup ecosystem. We need to show the world what we are capable of and what we can do.”
“I was very impressed with the truly pan-African nature of the pitches and contests. It was a refreshing change to see startups, investors and strategic partners from all across Africa and beyond participate proactively, versus ‘more-of-the-same’ that we are used to seeing at the myriad of startup tech conferences in Cape Town”, said Zach George, Partner and co-Managing Director of Startupbootcamp Africa, one of the world’s top tech accelerator programs.
Live-streaming investor platform, EuroQuity, was employed to showcase pitches for investors who could not be present.
“The pitches were also live streamed on EuroQuity,” states Christophe Viarnaud, CEO of Methys and lead organizer of AfricArena, “and on the first day there were more than 37 international investors logged on the platform and commenting live on the pitches happening in the battle arena. We have also had a very positive response regarding the quality of the content and streaming from the investors.”
“There were lots of questions which is always a good indication,” commented Isabelle Bébéar, Head of International and Management Programs and lead sponsor of BPI France. “We partnered with EuroQuity because we think it's a good opportunity to connect the African startup ecosystem with the French-European ecosystem of investors, corporates and other startups and EuroQuity is a very good medium to create those links. All the sessions are recorded and will be available in replay on the EuroQuity website for follow-up viewing.”
“Entrepreneurs are passionate and want to change the world,” adds Viarnaud, “There are limited angel investors in Africa and we need to change the fact that only 1% of the global seed investment is coming to Africa. We need to give the world confidence in African tech startups and attract international investors and that is what AfricArena aimed to do.”
After a heated two days, the following startups emerged victorious:
1. AirFrance Challenge 1: GoMetro
2. AirFrance Challenge 2: WeCashUp
3. Leroy Merlin Challenge: Droppa
4. RCS Challenge: UFSL.
5. Schneider Electric Challenge: The Sun Exchange
6. City of Cape Town Challenge: We do Tourism
7. The Refiners Challenge: iPay – selected for next round selection process enabling to gain entry to San Francisco based the Refiners
8. BIP // NxSE Challenge: Doctor Smart
9. French South African Tech Labs (supported by SEDA): Challenge Winners (4): Good Tree, Stockapp, Guardian Gabriel, DataPlait
"We feel great about winning! It's been very exciting to win at the very first AfricArena conference. Even though the RCS Challenge was definitely challenging, we were able to put out a solution. Competing with 2 other startups in the space definitely taught us a lot about the recent developments in the FinTech field, and although they proved to be excellent competitors we emerged on top, and that's mostly due to the team we have at USFL. We would like to take this opportunity to thank AfricArena for hosting this awesome event," says Yazeed Osman of the startup USFL, winners of the RCS Challenge.
Each of the startups won a year-long subscription to YueDiligence which will provide them with a dashboard to calculate their due diligence. The majority of the other prizes consisted of inclusion in various incubators and accelerators.